Researchers from the cognition and language research group, Grecil, have reviewed the impact of gender stereotypes on children with developmental language disorder.
Developmental language disorder is a condition which affects a child’s acquisition and development of language. Children with developmental language disorder may struggle with speaking, communicating, and understanding others.
Developmental language disorder is considered an ‘invisible disorder’, as markers of the condition can be difficult to recognise and diagnose. The researchers believe these diagnostic issues can be aggravated by gender stereotypes.
Gender stereotypes around language
The researchers examined ten common gender stereotypes related to language and emotional behaviour. These included statements like “girls have greater communication and language skills than boys” and “boys interrupt because they know more things than girls”.
“In this study, we examined how sexist stereotypes influence important variables in the study of developmental language disorder, such as language and the socio-emotional sphere, based on the importance of working from a feminist perspective in science and in the approach to developmental language disorder,” said Nadia Ahufinger, from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
The researchers also considered the relationships between sexist socialisation factors and the development of language and socio-emotional skills in children with developmental language disorder.
“These factors can have a negative impact on the detection and assessment of girls and boys with language difficulties at different stages of their development,” Ahufinger pointed out.
It is estimated that one in 14 children suffers from with developmental language disorder, equating to 7% of the paediatric population.
“These boys and girls mainly present difficulties expressing and understanding spoken language, but their difficulties also extend to non-linguistic aspects including cognition, memory, academic performance and socio-emotional skills,” said Mari Aguilera, co-author of the study.
Language development disorder is overrepresented in boys
The researchers have suggested that sexist stereotypes have led to male-centric detection and assessment processes for developmental language disorder. The researchers argued that this caused as an uneven number of cases of the disorder being detected among boys, as boys tend to exhibit more disruptive behaviours.
“According to the scientific evidence, the difference between boys and girls in terms of language acquisition is not large enough to justify the widespread belief or myth that girls have better communication skills and language skills throughout their development, and we must understand that this idea is due to a sexist stereotype,” said Ahufinger.
According to the researchers, sexist stereotyping could have a significant impact on the development and expression of emotion and social relationships. They argued that there is still a belief that females are emotional and empathetic individuals who are oriented towards other people, and that males tend to be more rational and oriented towards their own goals and achievements.
The researchers have urged medical professionals to consider that girls may have similar language difficulties to boys, but that they may express them in different ways. They warned that the adoption of these stereotypes can lead to inappropriate treatment and underdiagnosis for young girls.
“Due to this androcentric perspective, we still don’t know if there is a profile of language difficulties – emotional, social and involving the various spheres affected – with this disorder that may differ between boys and girls. This aspect can directly lead to an underdiagnosis of girls and imbalances in the design of the intervention,” said Ahufinger.
The researchers have proposed a revaluation of the current working models, centred around interdisciplinary work. In their review, the researchers outlined new approaches to diagnostics that expel myths related to sexist stereotypes and deeply rooted ideas about gender roles.
“Protocols and guidelines that take sexist biases into account in the detection and evaluation of developmental language disorder and in work with families must be incorporated so that this population can be treated based on coeducation and real equality,” explained Ahufinger.
“It is essential to train paediatricians and medical professionals so that they are aware of warning signs in young children that may indicate a possible disorder in the future. It is important to work to integrate shared protocols between speech therapists and medical professionals,” concluded the authors.